Pen y Fan is a peak in the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog) of South Wales. At 886m, it is the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons and indeed the whole of southern UK. There are many routes to the summit of Pen y Fan, but the most challenging is the classic Horseshoe Hike.
The Pen y Fan Horseshoe walk is a 16km route that climbs to the four peaks of Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big. Having walked the horseshoe in all seasons, I wanted to put together this comprehensive guide.
In this post I provide a detailed description of the walking route including links to the starting location and an accurate weather forecast, along with photographs and maps.
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Pen y Fan Horseshoe Map
I also have all 5 Pen y Fan walking routes marked out on the offline mapping app maps.me. Click here to access these hiking routes.
The Pen y Fan Horseshoe Route
- Distance: 16km (10 miles) round trip
- Elevation gain: 780m (2559ft)
- Time: 4.5 – 6 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate – strenuous
- Starting location: Neuadd Reservoir access road car park. Grid ref: SO038169. Free parking.
- Map: Brecon Beacons Explorer 12
- Weather forecast
- How to pronounce: Pen-uh-van
- Meaning: Top peak
The starting location for the Pen y Fan horseshoe is the Neuadd car park, at the base of the Taf Fechan Valley. This car park is very remote and is accessed along a series of B roads from the town of Merthyr Tydfil. The Neuadd car park is free to use. Unfortunately there is no public transport that serves this car park.
This loop walk can be enjoyed in either direction, but I prefer to hike in a clockwise direction in order to bag the two highest peaks first and then a choice can be made as to whether the final two peaks are climbed.
The trail begins by passing the end of a drained reservoir before climbing steeply onto the western side of the valley. The route then gently climbs towards the head of the valley where the summits of Corn Du and Pen y Fan are bagged without too much effort.
A steep downhill followed by a steep uphill leads to the third peak of Cribyn, followed by another a smaller descent and ascent of Fan y Big. The route is completed by staying atop the ridge and walking down the eastern side of the valley to return to the starting location.
Pen y Fan Horseshoe Detailed Trail Description
The trail starts at the northern end of the car park and makes a brief climb up onto the road. Walk along the road, ignoring the rocky path that branches off to the right and continue on past the green boom gate. Follow the road to a series of derelict buildings and continue straight ahead through the fence and past the danger sign.
Turn left here, through the trees and pass alongside the right of the old reservoir pump house. Turn left at the end of the building, at which point the gravel path begins. This well-maintained path leads most of the way around the horseshoe loop.
Follow this gravel path as it crosses over the Taf Fechan river and winds up over the grassy bank. Stop here to view the horseshoe loop in front of you and admire the mountains you are about to climb. Pass through the edge of the forestry and go through the metal gate to access the hillside.
It’s here that the first climb of the day begins.
The ascent of Graig Fan Ddu ridge is certainly one to get the heart pumping but is thankfully over before too long. The stone steps on the path are easy to navigate in summer, but can get deathly icy in winter so care should be taken and crampons are definitely recommended.
Once on top of the ridge, take a moment to catch your breath. Appreciate the U-shaped glacial valley in front of you and the Pontsticill Reservoir behind you.
From this point there is a gradual climb along the ridge towards the peak of Corn Du. The route along the ridge can be quite boggy and muddy in places but these are easily dodged.
The final climb along the ridge culminates at a stone cairn which marks the summit of Craig Gwaun Taf. Although this peak doesn’t qualify as a Hewitt, it is a Nuttall, and by this classification is the third highest peak in the Brecon Beacons (behind Pen y Fan and Corn Du). So this is actually the first summit of the day, although no-one seems to include it as such on the horseshoe wallk.
From the summit, follow the path as it drops down into the saddle with Corn Du. To the left you will be joined by the masses walking up to Pen y Fan from Pont ar Daf car park on the A470. Ignore the path that branches off to the right to contour around Corn Du. Instead continue straight ahead to bag the next peak.
The final climb to the top of Corn Du is quite steep with large steps, but once on top you can enjoy fabulous views into Cwm Llwch to the north the Taf Fechan valley to the south. The summit is once again marked by a stone cairn.
Once you are ready to continue, follow the path to the north east as it makes a short descent before climbing once again, this time to the summit of Pen y Fan.
Pen y Fan’s summit is marked with a plaque and is actually the location of a Bronze Age burial chamber.
You’ll have to stand in line to get that “selfie at the summit” on weekends and during school holidays and then find a spot to take a well earned rest. This roughly marks the halfway point on the hike the next big climb of the day is coming up next.
From the summit, follow the path that leads in a southeasterly direction. The path appears to simply disappear as it drops down onto a steep section known as Jacobs Ladder, before becoming more gradual further on.
At the bottom of Pen y Fan, make your way around the ponds to begin climbing the next peak, Cribyn. This climb is once again steep and the stone path turns the whole ascent into a step class, but again the views from the top are worth it.
Look back towards Pen y Fan, Corn Du and to appreciate your efforts so far and look north to enjoy views over Cwm Sere, which is the location of Pen y Fan’s secret waterfall.
Once again leave the summit in a southeasterly direction and make your way across the top of the ridge. There is another steep descent to the bottom of Cribyn, to a point known as the Gap. This is where an old cart road passes between the Central Beacons on its route from Brecon to Merthyr.
This path is commonly called the Roman road, although there is no evidence to suggest it dates back to Roman times. It is however, very straight so perhaps that’s where the belief originates. The Roman road is your get out now option if you choose not to climb the final peak of the day.
If you do decide to complete the horseshoe, it’s time to follow the path as it begins to zig zag its way to the top of Fan y Big. Thankfully this climb isn’t as long as the ascent to Cribyn, and soon enough you will be on the summit.
There is a stone shelter at the top of Fan y Big, but the summit is more well known for a feature called the Diving Board. This is a large, flat stone that protrudes from the escarpment, tempting walkers into venturing out for a photograph, the backdrop of which are the impressive flat-topped peaks of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du.
Having bagged the final peak, it’s time to make your way back to the car park. You have the option to descend Fan y Big back the way you came up and then walk back to the car park along the Roman road. However, to make this a true horseshoe it makes sense to stay up on the ridge tops a little longer.
For this, leave the summit past the stone shelter and follow the fainter path along Fan y Bigs’ ridge. Then start to climb up towards the peak of Craig Cwareli. Once you reach a wooden post at the side of the path, branch off to the right along a smaller path which appears nothing more than a sheep track.
Before leaving the main track, look back for perhaps the best view of the four Pen y Fan Horseshoe peaks.
Follow this narrow track as it gradually descends along the ridge, enjoying views of the Taf Fechan valley to your right. Stay on this track for 1.2km, almost until you reach the forestry, then turn right to make the final descent into the valley.
This path passes between several streams and can get quite boggy in places. This descent is grassy and forgiving on tired knees and shortly spits you out onto the Roman Road. Turn left and follow this track for just over 1km, where it rejoins with the road.
Walk along the road for just over 100m and then turn right, down the track and into the car park, to complete this beautiful Beacons horseshoe hike.
Don’t want to hike alone? If you’re looking for a guide to lead you on your walk please get in touch here.
Enjoy more walks nearby
- Waun Rydd and the Wellington Bomber Crash Site
- The best hikes in the Brecon Beacons
- Waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons
Accommodation Options For The Pen y Fan Horseshoe Loop
The starting location for the horseshoe walk is very remote, with few accommodation options nearby. The nearest town is Merthyr Tydfil, which has several options for spending the night, the best of which is James’ Place or for a more budget friendly option try The Antelope Hotel.
If you’re travelling solo or are on a budget then the best place to stay after hiking ‘the fan’ is the YHA Brecon Beacons. This is located on the east side of the mountain, just off the A470.
Dorm beds are available from £15.
For a more boutique option just south of Pen y Fan try the Nant Ddu Lodge and Spa. They also serve delicious food here which will be well deserved after after the horseshoe hike!
Rooms from £75 per night.
There are more accommodation options to the north in the market town of Brecon, however this is a long drive around the mountains from the Neuadd car park in the south.
What To Pack For The Pen Y Fan Horseshoe Ridge Walk
- Waterproofs – of course, it’s Wales and we get lots of rain!
- Food & water – filtering water bottles are very handy for safely refilling in streams and rivers. You can read more about filtering water bottles in this guide.
- Hat, gloves and warm layers for the summits
- Quality hiking boots are a must
- The relevant map and compass, and the ability to use them!
- A first aid kit for hiking
- These paths are also marked on various mapping apps. A great free option is maps.me, alternatively consider an annual subscription to OS to have access to all UK OS maps on your mobile.
These are just some of the essentials, but for a complete list of things to take on a day hike, take a look at this guide!
Pen y Fan Horseshoe Walk FAQs
What facilities are available at the start of the Pwn y Fan horseshoe hike?
The Neuadd Reservoir car park is in a remote location with no facilities available. Be sure to bring all food, water and equipment along with you. There is also limited (or no) phone signal at the car park.
Can I bring my dog on this hike?
Yes dogs are allowed on this walk although they need to be kept on a lead because there are sheep in the area.
Do I have to pay to do this walk?
Access to the Brecon Beacons National Park is free of charge. The parking is also free at this car park.
Can I wear trainers on this hike?
The trail for most of this route is along a stone path which is more comfortable in trainers. However, there are several boggy sections, especially along the Fan y Big ridge, and since the stones are very uneven it’s quite easy to roll an ankle. I therefore recommend hiking boots, especially in autumn and winter.
What’s the best time of year to do the Pen y Fan Horseshoe ridge walk?
This hike can be enjoyed all year around. In the winter months there can often be snow on the ground, making the walk a little more magical. Crampons or hiking boot spikes are recommended for snow and icy conditions. In the summer the weather is generally more pleasant and the days are longer, however this is peak season for hiking in the Beacons and the summits can be very busy.
Final Thoughts On Walking The Pen y Fan Horseshoe
The Pen y Fan Horseshoe, also known as the Beacons Horseshoe, is a hiking trail in the Brecon Beacons. This route is 16km long and has an elevation gain of 780m. It takes between 4.5 – 6.5 hours to complete and can be hiked in either direction.
This hike is considered difficult because of the amount of up and down involved and is the most difficult of the Pen y Fan routes. Hikes of Pen y Fan can be enjoyed all year around with the right equipment but is most popular during the summer months.
If you’re looking for a guide to take you around the Pen y Fan horseshoe then get in touch here.
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